Travel photographers learn to seek 'poetry' in the chaotic

Travel photographers learn to seek 'poetry' in the chaotic


Daylong photography tours of Cambodian countryside led by professional shooter Nathan Horton offer shutterbugs opportunity to put theory into practice

Photo by: Christopher Shay

A man hangs laundry out to dry in a floating village in Kompong Chhnang during a day-long photo tour led by Nathan Horton.

ATOP the hills of Udong, Cambodia's former capital from the 17th to the 19th century, photographer Nathan Horton leads a small group of aspiring shutterbugs through stupas set against the sunset.

As the group photographs the panoramic scenery, Horton encourages them to experiment with their cameras.

"When you're shooting silhouettes, look for strong shapes," he said. "Try shooting this on the ‘cloudy' setting of your white balance. It makes the picture warmer."

Horton, a professional photographer for 22 years, has run daylong workshops every Saturday and multiday photography tours of Cambodia since 2006, during which he shares his considerable store of photographic tips.

The theory

Horton began this day's tour with a three-hour session during which he explained the technical aspects of photography, compositional techniques and the ethics of travel photography.

Horton's tours are aimed at novice and experienced photographers alike, and he balances his talks with basic information about how a camera works - f-stops and shutter speeds - and more advanced, technical information, such as dynamic auto focus versus single-area focus.

Where his workshop really shined, however, was with the nontechnical advice he offered. "Travel photography is about going into the chaotic world and looking for a bit of poetry," he said.

It is up to the

photographer to

step out and find

something different.

"A photographer needs to be sharp, predict what's going to happen and be able to observe light.... There are lots of good pictures out there, but you have to go look for them," he added.

Students do not need a fancy camera to join Horton's classes or to take good photos. He admits that expensive cameras give photographers more control but emphasises that "cameras don't take photos, people do".

One key to being a good travel photographer, he said, is to really engage with the environment and the people you are photographing.

His first tip to being a successful photographer was a simple one. "You need to go for a walk. You can't get to know a culture or properly photograph it through an air-conditioned cab," he said.

His emphasis on the importance of responsible engagement is related to his belief that a camera can be "a key to get into places and discover new things". In his experience, travel photography allows greater access to local culture, so long as "you don't shove your camera into the locals's faces without asking".

Shooting 'poetry'

The first stop on the photography tour was Kampong Chhnang, at a floating village about an hour and half outside of Phnom Penh. While Horton imparted a lot of information at his studio, it was not until everyone was out shooting that the ideas became clearer.

Armed with digital cameras, the group traveled by boat through a small, floating fishing village and learned how to photograph reflective surfaces and make clouds look more dramatic.

"Look how the light coming from this direction brings out the colours," he said as he compared backlit houses on one side of the river with houses illuminated by warm, evening light on the other.

From Kampong Chhnang, Horton led the group to Udong, Cambodia's capital from 1618 to 1866. Located on a series of hills, Udong is an ideal place to view sunsets, as it affords a photographer 360-degree views of the countryside.

Horton assisted students in the class with technical aspects of their camera and demonstrated how these technical decisions were also aesthetic ones.

Soraya Verjee, one of the students in the group, praised Horton's class. "I thought it was a good introduction. It was really useful. At the very least, it was quite nice to get out of the city and see another part of Cambodia," she said.

Horton concluded the day's tour with a final word of encouragement.

"It is up to you as a photographer to step out and find something a bit different," he said.


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